The following play is inspired by real events during one Pico-Robertson Friday night in January 2008.
Levi, about 40 years old, is the first person out of shul on this Friday night in winter.
He walks rapidly, heading east on Pico Blvd towards Robertson Blvd.
A group of men walk out behind him talking excitedly.
They’re followed by a young woman — Sarah, about 26yo — tottering on high heels.
SARAH: "Levi! Levi!"
Levi turns around. His face lights up.
SARAH: "Wait up!"
He turns and walks towards her.
SARAH: "Why are you always the first person out of shul?"
LEVI: "There’s no one there I want to talk to."
They walk together east on Pico.
SARAH: "I often want to talk to you but you don’t hang around. I always have to chase after you."
LEVI: "I don’t want to hover around in the back waiting to see if you want to talk to me. It’s not dignified. I’m not your boyfriend. Where is Yonah?"
SARAH: "We’re not together anymore. He didn’t want to go through the whole RCC rigamarole. He went with me the first time to see Rabbi Union. He was the impetus for me converting to Judaism, but he got scared when Rabbi Union said, ‘We’re going to be watching you.’
"He’s in grad school. He doesn’t have time to daven three times a day. He told Rabbi Union, ‘I only get four hours of sleep a night as it is.’ And Rabbi Union said, ‘Get three-and-a-half hours and go to minyan in the morning.’
"Yonah said to me afterwards, ‘I’m out of here.’
"So we can’t be a couple while I go through this conversion program. We’re still friends. He still has a special place in my heart.
"He says he’s working on himself. Now I know how. The other night, I ran into this girl who said she’d just had an intense sexual relationship with him."
LEVI: "I respect a guy who works on himself by bedding a lot of women.
"How long you been in the RCC program now?"
SARAH: "Two years.
"I finally changed my name this week. Officially. I am no longer Christine White. I’m Sarah Christine White. Now I just have to cover up this cross tattoo on my lower back."
LEVI: "You’re almost Jewish."
SARAH: "Yes. I should be finished in the next three months. I meet with the Beit Din Monday. Then we’ll set a date for them to test me and then it’s on to the mikveh and it will be official. I’ll be a Jew. My conversion will be accepted everywhere. I can go on Birthright. I can go to Israel with Aish HaTorah."
They walk past Bnai David-Judea.
LEVI: "Rabbi Kanefsky is not your father’s Orthodox rabbi."
SARAH: "He puts his neck out for people and for causes he believes in. That’s not normal in Orthodox life. It’s so insular and frightened."
LEVI: "A few years ago, he was the only pulpit Modern Orthodox rabbi who’d meet with me. Rabbi Muskin, Rabbi Weil, they’d washed their hands of me. Rabbi Kanefsky was the only rabbi who asked me for my story. I need to tell my story. The other rabbis, they never asked for my story. They just booted me. Rabbi Moshe Cohen at Aish? He at least gave me a choice to clean up my act or leave the community."
SARAH: "You’re such a rebel, Levi. That’s what I love about you."
SARAH: "Yeah. I’ve always been attracted to rebels."
LEVI: "I’m tired of being a rebel. I just want to settle down and get married and have kids."
SARAH: "I want to see you hug Rabbi Kanefsky."
LEVI: "I can’t. He has so much power over me. He just has to point his finger to the door and I’m out and who else will take me? I’d be right and proper f*****. That scares me. How can you hug someone who can turn your world upside down?"
SARAH: "I love his heartfelt sermons. And Bnai David? It’s the only Orthodox shul I know that’s friendly to prospective converts. But the RCC does not like Rabbi Kanefsky. They try to steer people to Anshe Emes or Aish Ha Torah. Rabbi Rue with the Los Angeles Beit Din respects Rabbi Kanefsky and steers people towards Bnai David."
LEVI: "I love how Rabbi Kanefsky teaches text, but I disagree with him on almost everything controversial he’s ever said. He’s against cracking down on illegal immigrants. He’s worried about global warming. He thinks women need prayer groups. He hosts a meal every month for the homeless. Instead of feeding them, I think we should spit upon them."
SARAH: "Levi! That’s horrible!"
LEVI: "Whatever you subsidize, you get more of."
SARAH: "Levi, I know how poor you are. You’re pretty damn close to homelessness yourself."
LEVI: "I know. That’s precisely why I fear and loathe the homeless. I could be one of them and I do everything to prevent that. I’m the worthy poor. I’m the working poor. I’m the blogging poor."
SARAH: "You’re a bad man."
LEVI: "Rabbi Kanefsky’s sermons discomfort me. They’re so emotionally raw. He’s just up there speaking from his heart and it makes me shift in my seat. I’m a man. I don’t like public expressions of male emotion. Male emotion belongs in the bedroom and on blogs. And that’s it. I remember he said we weren’t supposed to enjoy the Iraq war. I love shock and awe."
SARAH: "You’re a bad man."
LEVI: "I’m not a social worker like you. I’m a moral leader."
SARAH: "I wouldn’t know you if I didn’t read your blog. That’s how I know what you’re really thinking and feeling. Most people don’t get you but I get you. Most people fear you. I don’t fear you."
LEVI: "I need time and safety to process my emotions and understand what triggered them. Then I can write about them."
SARAH: "Women don’t want to be understood. They want to be loved."
They stand at the corner of Shenandoah and Airdrome. It’s time to part but they keep on talking.
SARAH: "So how’s Kris?"
LEVI: "I broke up with her six months ago. We’d been together 14 months. She was jealous of the way I talked to you at that Passover seder."
SARAH: "You were totally flirting with me."
LEVI: "I was just being friendly. I thought you were a hermaphrodite. That short hair. Boyish bod. You always seemed sad and depressed. I wanted to bring you joy."
SARAH: "You wanted to give me a lot more than that."
LEVI: "I broke up with her. And then my life didn’t improve any. I was just sad. And lonely. And sexless. And after a few months, I saw her and we hooked up. But we’re not together. We just help each other in different ways. She gives me sex and food and companionship. I give her a place to sleep and shower and give her some money. It’s what the Torah would want."
SARAH: "Is she converting?"
LEVI: "Who knows. You can never tell her with her. She was almost finished with the American Jewish University Conservative conversion to Judaism and then she dropped out. Now she’s talking about going through the RCC but she’ll never make it through the RCC. First she has to get a job and an apartment. She can’t keep living with me and her sister."
SARAH: "So what are you doing tonight?"
LEVI: "I don’t have any plans. Do you want to hang out?"
They walk east on Airdrome. Levi looks perturbed.
LEVI: "Can I meet you on this corner in 20 minutes? There are some things I have to do."
Levi walks into his hovel. Kris sits at the table. It has a white tablecloth and four candles burning. She’s laid out dinner for two. There’s grape juice and challah.
Kris is little and cute and cuddly. She’s about 32. She’s Chinese.
KRIS: "Gut Shabbos!"
LEVI: "Gut Shabbos!
"Hey. I promised to say the brachas with you. And I will. But I got invited to Shabbat dinner. I can’t have dinner with you. I only promised the brachas."
Kris’s face falls.
KRIS: "I thought it was understood that the brachas meant dinner. I made dinner. You know I made dinner. I cleaned up your hovel. Look what I’ve prepared. I could’ve had dinner elsewhere. They wanted to set me up at Beth Am for Shabbat dinner. I said no. I wanted to be with you."
LEVI: "I only meant brachas. I can’t have you complicating my life. I appreciate all this and I will make it up to you but I need my key back. I can’t have you complicating my Shabbats. I need to keep my Shabbats Kris-free."
Kris keeps quiet. Levi takes the cup and recites the kiddish.
LEVI: "Barch atah adonai elohinu melech ha-olam bore pri hagefen."
Kris looks at him.
KRIS: "Isn’t there more?"
LEVI: "I don’t have time."
Then he recites the Aishet Chayil prayer. He translates it into English.
LEVI: "A woman of valor, who can find? Her worth is far above jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and nothing shall he lack. She renders him good and not evil all the days of her life. She opens her hand to the needy, and extends her hand to the poor. She is robed in strength and dignity, and cheerfully faces whatever may come. She opens her mouth with wisdom. Her tongue is guided by kindness. She tends to the affairs of her household, and eats not the bread of idleness. Her children come forward and bless her. Her husband too, and he praises her. Many women have done superbly, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a God-fearing woman is much to be praised. Place before her the fruit of her hands. Wherever people gather, her deeds speak her praise."
Levi leads Kris into the bathroom. He takes the cup with his right hand, fills it with water, transfers it to the left hand and pours water three times on his right hand. Then he takes the cup with his right hand and pours water three times on his left hand.
Kris stands before the sink. Levi pours water three times on her right hand and then three times on her left. They leave the bathroom.
LEVI: "Baruch atah adonai elohinu melech haolam asher kidshana b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al netilat yadayim."
KRIS: "Baruch atah adonai elohinu melech haolam asher kidshana b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al netilat yadayim."
Levi lifts the challah covering and picks up the two loaves of challah.
LEVI: "Baruch atah adonai elohinu melech ha-olam hamotzi lechem min haaretz."
He puts the loaves back down. He sprinkles some salt on one challah. He cuts it into slices. He takes a bite. Then he gives a piece to Kris. She chews it slowly.
LEVI: "I’m sorry, but you have to go. I need my key back."
KRIS: "First I need to get some of the food that I prepared for us. I’ll go sit and eat it in my car."
Kris carves up food and makes herself a plate. Then she opens the door and walks out. Levi follows her out.
At the street, they turn to each other.
LEVI: "Gut Shabbos."
KRIS: "Gut Shabbos."
Crying, she gets in her car and drives off.
Levi watches her go. Then he breaks into a run west on Airdrome.
He finds Sarah waiting for him.
LEVI: "Sorry about that."
SARAH: "No problem. I’ve never been to your place. I know you call it your ‘hovel’ on your blog. This is exciting."
LEVI: "We’ve never hung out. I’ve got some food that Kris prepared for me."
SARAH: "You don’t deserve her. How would she feel about another woman eating it?"
Levi and Sarah sing Shalom Aleichem to welcome the Shabbos angels. He recites the full kiddish. They wash their hands. He makes hamotzi. They sit down and eat the meal Kris prepared.
Levi pops up and digs into his closet.
SARAH: "I think the reason I am so attracted to you, I mean I like you, is because you’re a rebel. I’m not a rebel but rebels excite me as long as their rebelliousness has a good cause. Your blog is a good cause. You’re cleaning up Orthodox Judaism. You’re like a social worker."
Levi comes out of his closet with the copy of the Jewish Journal with him on the cover.
He shows Sarah.
LEVI: "You can read it all online. Rabbi Union is not a big fan of mine. He says in here that I was kicked out of the RCC for deceit."
SARAH: "Who converted you?"
LEVI: "This Beit Din in Sacramento."
SARAH: "Does everyone accept this conversion?"
LEVI: "No. Not everyone. But I am not going to let the rabbis in this town determine whether I’m Jewish or not. I passed a Beit Din. I was immersed in the mikveh. I got the ritual circumsicion, the hatafat dam brit. I accept the mitzvot. According to the Meiri and other commentators, I’m Jewish, no matter what Rabbi Union says. No matter what Rabbi Muskin says. No matter what Rabbi Weil says. No matter what Rabbi Cohen says. No matter what Rabbi Kanefsky says. I’m the real deal. True blue Jew."
SARAH: "At least you’ve got the outfit down. You play dress-up well. I can’t believe you wear your tzitzit out and at the same time you sleep with shiksas."
LEVI: "I’m torn and confused. I just need a good woman to take me in hand."
SARAH: "Who’s going to want to marry you with your reputation? You’ve slept with a lot of women in the community. Everybody knows. You’re trouble. You can’t sleep around in an insular community like this and keep a good reputation. Women think you’re a player. That you’re not serious. That you’re not marriage material. I’m glad I’ve only slept with one man in my life. How many women you been with?"
LEVI: "Over 40."
SARAH: "Jesus H. Christ. Rabbi Union was right about you. You can’t sleep with that many women and not practice deceit. You’re a wolf. Women should be warned about you. I don’t know why I like you so much, but I’ll never sleep with you. You understand that we’re just friends."
LEVI: "Just friends."
SARAH: "When are you going to get your act together? A lot of people have put themselves on the line for you. I’m endangering my conversion by talking to you. I’m putting my life on the line for you. I believe you can be an authentic Orthodox Jew. When are you going to grow up?"
Levi keeps silent.
SARAH: "Levi, I really care about you, but look at this place. This is the type of place where they find suicides."
LEVI: "Don’t talk about suicide. It freaks me out. I’m bipolar. Not clinically. I’m just up and down in my moods. There are some dark places I don’t like to go to."
SARAH: "Sorry. Do you think you are on the right path?"
LEVI: "Orthodox Judaism feels right to me. It’s my home. My mother and father, my family, they’re all in Australia. This Aish HaTorah community is my family now. I’ve never known love like the love at Aish. These people open their homes and their hearts. All they ask in exchange is that I fly straight."
SARAH: "I guess that’s too much to ask."
LEVI: "I don’t know how I’m going to make a living flying straight.
"When I quit writing on porn last October, I had $6,000 in the bank. Now I am $8,000 in credit card debt. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m so lost. When I can’t earn money, I feel like my dick’s been cut off.
"So why didn’t you go with the LA Beit DIn?"
SARAH: "Because not everyone accepts their conversion. I want nobody to question my children’s Jewishness."
LEVI: "The RCC won’t cut you any breaks. They’ll look for reasons to expel you from their program. Rabbi Union is as tough as nails. He nailed me. I respect him for it. After he booted me from the program, I found a bunch of his divrei Torah online and I listened to all of it. He’s a mesmerizing speaker. He’s the most respected and popular teacher at the Bais Yaakov school. What’s your read on him?"
SARAH: "He’s tough. I don’t really have a read of him. I just want to get through this and then I’ll be happy to never see him again.
"Rabbi Union is not the only rabbi who feels betrayed by you. Every rabbi in this hood feels betrayed by you. They’ve all seen something good in you and they’ve all tried to give you a fair chance. In the end, they can’t stomach what you write on your blogs."
LEVI: "An honest man is always in trouble."
SARAH: "Grrr. Shmirat HaLoshon, Levi. Judaism demands holy speech, not just holy behavior, not that you’re doing too well in that category either."
LEVI: "My only crime is that I tell the truth. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God."
SARAH: "Levi, get down from your cross. Christ, you’re just like your father. You can’t wait to martyr yourself. That’s all well and good until you take others down with you."
LEVI: "Father, take this cup from me, but not my will, but Thine be done."
SARAH: "When I’m with you, I feel like I’m in a bad musical."
LEVI: "I don’t know how you do it, making love out of nothing at all."
SARAH: "Grrr. It’s easy to be cynical. What do you really believe in?"
LEVI: "Rob Eshman at the Jewish Journal suggested I write out my Jewish beliefs. I believe like Dennis Prager. He’s said it all far better than I can. I only bring disrepute on the cause by identifying with him, so I don’t."
SARAH: "What cause?"
LEVI: "Ethical monotheism."
SARAH: "That’s Reform Judaism."
SARAH: "What is it?"
LEVI: "One God whose primary demand of His creation is that they treat each other ethically. If I make love outside of marriage, what’s so unethical?"
SARAH: "You shall be holy as I the Lord am holy."
LEVI: "I’m still working on that. I just want to return to the womb. Something got broken in me in my first few years, my mother dying. My sexuality got warped. I don’t know how to bond with other people. I just know how to f*** them."
10:30 pm. Levi walks Sarah home. Then he rushes — passing a seemingly asleep Kris in her car, as he goes by, she gets up and watches him run, he never sees her — over to a friend’s place. Their Shabbat dinner is winding up. It’s all Israelis. Rivkah, a slim actress about 40, is glad to see him.
RIVKAH (whispering in Levi’s ear): "I can’t be with you tonight. I’ve heard some divrei Torah. I’m feeling on a very high level. I don’t want you to bring me down."
LEVI: "I feel the same way. Let’s be chaste together."
The Shabbat dinner winds up. Levi walks Rivkah back to his place. They pass Sarah walking up the stairs to Yonah’s apartment.
Back at the hovel, as Rivkah repeats the Torah talks she’s heard tonight, Levi embraces her.
The Shabbat-timer clicks on and the lights go out.
RIVKAH: "I’m so on a higher madrega than you."
LEVI: "That’s why I love you, baby!"